Column: Comparing college life in the U.S. and ChinaClasses haven’t actually started yet, but I can already tell from the tone of these students’ emails that teaching business at United International College in Zhuhai, China, will be quite different from my academic work at The College of St. Scholastica.
By: Arlene Anderson, For the Budgeteer News
Classes haven’t actually started yet, but I can already tell from the tone of these students’ emails that teaching business at United International College in Zhuhai, China, will be quite different from my academic work at The College of St. Scholastica.
Here are a couple of examples of the emails: “It is a great honor for us to follow you in doing our final year project” and “We hope we will be your good students and friends. We still have a long way to learn things because we have many deficiencies, but we will take our project seriously and we are willing to learn everything.”
The students I worked with in Duluth were like many students around the globe: worried about grades, wrestling with new concepts, searching for new friends, blowing off steam during weekends, and occasionally falling in love. The same is true for students in China.
In contrast to the typical college students that are in Duluth, however, university students in China share some unique characteristics. First, they have the “4-2-1” burden. As a result of China’s one-child policy, there are generally two sets of grandparents (4) and one set of parents (2) who have heavily invested in their (1) offspring. It is not uncommon to see grandmothers out on the streets following closely behind a toddler, fanning him lest he get too warm in the summer heat.
Each student carries the weight of the family’s hopes for a secure and prosperous future. Every aspect of his or her life has been closely monitored and observed.
Each student represents a tightly-knit family system with high expectations.
Having been the center of family attention for their entire lives, they have never had to share a room or their precious toys. They are unpracticed at compromise. Suddenly, these teen-
agers find themselves together in a dorm room with three others. It is quite a shock to be left alone with strangers, far from home, facing high standards and fierce competition. And since all instruction at United International College is in English, all of these challenges must be undertaken in a non-native language.
Added to this, China is at yet another watershed in her long history. The 2000-year-old tradition of Confucianism is largely lost and the old model of Communism has been abandoned. The most recent form
of Chinese capitalism
is dying. No one is sure what tomorrow’s business leaders will confront.
When teaching in Duluth, I conducted final integrative courses that expanded students’ global perspective. Those courses included a 2-week field study in China or India. Now I’m living on the other side of the world. It will be my mission to help Chinese leaders of tomorrow develop an international outlook, starting this fall with teaching a course on Applied Business Ethics.
The American journalist Thomas Friedman observes, “What is most unsettling to Americans about China is not their communism. It’s their capitalism.” Some of the characteristics we see in the Chinese people, such as their “can do” attitude, sacrifice, and belief in hard work, we used to see more clearly in ourselves. Whatever direction the future takes, China will need to rely on her enduring characteristics of collectivism and keen entrepreneurial practicality.
Some question whether the U.S. or China will be the ultimate economic winner in the future. I do not consider it to be an either/or question. If we learn to work in each other’s worlds, we can create mutually beneficial solutions. If we regard each other with ignorance and fear, surely it will mean disaster for both of us.
Mahatma Gandhi put it this way: “With every true friendship we build more firmly the foundations on which the peace of the whole world rests.”
This fall, I plan to start that foundation with my new students.
Arlene J. Anderson is a native Duluthian turned explorer and teacher in Zhuhai, China.